The Two-Point approach to Better Writing

Posted by Derek Chamberlain on Sunday, December 11, 2011 Under: Writing
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of books out there talking about the craft of writing. They cover everything, from coming up with ideas to crafting the perfect cover letter, from structuring a plot to developing well-rounded characters. There are classes at every level taught by everything from professional writers to professors. There is so much information available that there is no excuse for unprofessional-looking manuscripts or badly drafted stories. Handing in such work shows disrespect, not only to the editor and the craft, but also to yourself. 

Having read all those books, and taken all the classes, what you eventually come away with is the understanding that the only things that make you a better writer are 1) developing an enquiring mind, and 2) practice.

The enquiring mind is necessary because without the ability to question everything, to look at everything as something new and unique, you close off the largest stream that fills the pool of creativity. Where do ideas come from? From everywhere and everything around you filtered through an enquiring mind that doesn't merely 'see' those things, but 'looks' at them and looks for them; questions them, questions peoples assumptions about them, questions their causes and effects, and in seeking answers, finds ideas. The greatest weapon in a writer's arsenal is that magic question, 'What if?'

And then there is the second point, practice, which a lot of people would wish to move to first place. I'm not sure it matters which place it holds, as long as it holds a prominent one. Too many people thing they are 'natural' writers and have no need to practice, or edit their work. It's true that you don't have to be a great grammarian to be a good writer, but an awareness of a lack of skill in that area allows you to be humble about it and remember to run a grammar checker over your story. Attention to where you most commonly make mistakes can enable anyone to improve. Practice is the path everyone has to follow if they want to move from being an amateur to a professional in any craft.  

There is a reason to read all the books on the craft, most of them are the distilled wisdom of those who have gone before, and as such, they all have valid points to make. You should not, however, be so enamoured of any single book that you take it as the Writing Bible. There is no one right way. By seeing how others describe their paths, however, you get a sense of the terrain you have to cross, and a sense of where you are in it. You can also find a lot of encouragement in them, and ideas for how to better your own approach to writing. But books on writing should not be all you read, or the only ideas you have will be ideas on how to write rather than ideas on what to write.

In : Writing 

Tags: writing  the craft  ideas  study 
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Meet the scribbler

I'm a writer, editor, indie publisher, and dedicated Magic Spreadsheet user. Originally from Adelaide, Australia, I've been living in Japan since 1995. I've had a life-long interest in writing and in speculative fiction. My first book was published in mid-2014.
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